One night only: Biden versus the beauty queen

by Jim Longworth

Last week, vice presidential candidates Sen. Joe Biden and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin squared off in their first and only debate. The affair was moderated by Gwen Ifill, who never actually moderated. Not once did she challenge the two speakers when they avoided answering her questions, and not once did she prompt the candidates to engage one another. It was an important night for Palin because she had fared so poorly in a series of TV interviews the week before. Asked by Katie Couric what newspapers or magazines she reads, Palin stumbled and paused, then answered, “All of ’em.” Asked if she ever disagreed with a Supreme Court decision, Palin said she had not. This from the governor of a state in which thousands of residents were screwed out of settlement money earlier this year when the Supremes let Exxon off the hook for the Valdez spill. And so the McCain camp spent two weeks prepping Palin for the debate in hopes that she wouldn’t have another brain freeze on national television. To some degree the cramming sessions paid off. Not once during last week’s debate did she stumble or search for words. She always had an answer. The problem was that her answers were beauty-pageant answers which weren’t responsive to the questions. Remember last year’s Miss Teen USA pageant in which Miss South Carolina, Lauren Caitlin Upton, gave an incoherent reply to the question, “Why is it that one-fifth of Americans can’t identify the United States on a world map?” Palin was no better than Upton during the Couric interviews, but improved a bit for the debate. That’s because Palin is the chief executive of her state and, as such, knows how to assimilate information quickly. And so her debate answers, though non responsive, were personable and deflective enough that they seemed relevant. Still, I would have rather seen a debate between Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney. And that brings me to my big problem with both Biden and Palin. Never in the history of American politics have both vice presidential candidates come to the party with so many liabilities and so much baggage. Palin’s weaknesses are legend. She doesn’t read newspapers. She doesn’t stay current with court decisions that affect her own constituents. She believes that certain books should be banned from the public library. She is an advocate for the cowardly and inhumane practice of aerial hunting of wildlife. And while she says she believes in the sanctity of life, she supports staying in Iraq even though 4,000 Americans have died, and more than 600,000 innocent Iraqis have been killed. Biden, meanwhile, can’t connect with voters. This year was his second try at the White House. The first time he dropped out amid charges he had plagiarized a speech. And earlier this year he dropped out after receiving only a handful of votes in a couple of primaries. He voted for the invasion of Iraq three years ago, and voted to keep funding the war even after he knew we needed to exit that conflict. He also led the drive to reform bankruptcy laws, making it harder for the average American to get out from under debt after losing their job thanks to NAFTA, which Biden also supported. And why did Biden support the reform measures? Because he represents Delaware, the state from which most major credit card companies do business. Last month, Joe Biden, in a chivalrous aside, indicated that Hillary would have been more qualified as vice president than he. Later, in a parallel universe, ABC’s Charlie Gibson asked Palin if Obama had made a mistake in not picking Clinton as his running mate. Said Palin, “I bet he’s regretting it.” I’m sure there have also been times when McCain regretted picking Palin, especially after the Couric debacle. True, Sarah gave McCain’s campaign new energy, but, despite her surviving the debate unscathed, Palin’s popularity is waning among women and independents. Meanwhile, following McCain’s misread of the Wall Street crisis, Obama has opened up his largest lead yet in the national polls. If McCain had selected Romney as his running mate, chances are that Mitt could have been the campaign’s point man on the economic crisis, and the race would still be too close to call. On the other hand, had Obama picked Hillary as his VP, he could have coasted into the White House even without an economic crisis. Although there is a precedent for a presidential candidate replacing his running mate before the election (McGovern/Eagleton in ’72), it wouldn’t serve either camp to dump Biden and Palin at this late date. These are the cards we’ve been dealt: a neophyte black politician who burst onto the national scene thanks to the dirty Daly machine; two old white men whose votes in the Senate helped to put us in the messes we’re in; and a young clueless white woman who would censor what we read so that we’d be as illiterate as she is. And Ralph Nader couldn’t get on the ballot in North Carolina. Is there no justice?

Jim Longworth is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Fridays at 6:30 a.m. on ABC 45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 10 p.m. on WMYV (cable channel 15).